Phila. Archdiocese Places Three Priests on Leave

February 16, 2011

[with video]

PHILADELPHIA - February 16, 2011 (WPVI) -- The Archdiocese of Philadelphia has suspended three priests named as alleged child molesters in a scathing grand jury report, and pledged to reopen complaints made against 34 others still on the job.

Fr. Joseph Gallagher, Fr. Stephen Perzan and Fr. Joseph DiGregorio are being removed from ministry while their cases are again reviewed.

This comes as Cardinal Justin Rigali said that 34 other priests who are still in active ministry will also have their cases re-examined. To that end, the Archdiocese said it has hired Gina Smith, a former Philadelphia assistant district attorney and current partner of the law firm Ballard Spahr.

Church investigators had previously said they could not substantiate the allegations.

In making this announcement Cardinal Rigali said, "Many people of faith and in the community at large think that the Archdiocese does not understand the gravity of child sexual abuse. We do. The task before us now is to recognize where we have fallen short and to let our actions speak to our resolve."

Ballard Spahr partner Gina Smith has been hired by the Archdiocese to reexamine, among other issues, the 37 priests detailed in the report unveiled by District Attorney Seth Williams.

Smith, a lifelong Catholic and a mother of five, is also a former Philadelphia prosecutor who specialized is sex abuse cases.

"I think I bring a unique combination to the table, in particularly in the area of child sexual abuse, I have prosecuted hundreds of cases," Smith said.

Smith will report to Cardinal Justin Regali and says she will pull no punches when it comes to cases of abuse or those who might have tolerated or protected abusers.

"I will not turn my back on child sexual abuse or the covering up of it," Smith said.

DA Seth Williams applauded the hiring of Gina Smith, but others including SNAP, an organization made up of abuse survivors, said given the history of the church, it had little faith in any consultants or lawyers Cardinal Regali hires, picks, or pays.

Meanwhile, a scathing Philadelphia grand jury report last week charged three priests, a former priest and a teacher with abusing children or helping cover it up.

On Monday, an unidentified man filed a civil lawsuit against the Archdiocese. The Philadelphia plaintiff, whose lawyer says has suffered severe psychiatric breakdowns and at least one related hospitalization, accuses two priests of molesting him during his Catholic school education.

An attorney in that case said, "It was sad and tragic that it takes a public grand jury to force the Archdiocese to make these reexaminations."

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